This is the FIRST DRAFT of the novel, flaws and all, that I am writing for National Novel Writing Month 2020. Please refer to these posts to see the entire creation of this, from scratch, should you desire. Comments will be closed as of January 1, 2021. For any comments prior to that, please… be kind. This is a first draft! It’s just meant to help inspire anyone to write anything, whether good or bad.
For the first time, Vaeda moved through the caves with certainty. Every footstep took him closer to his goal, led by his inner mind’s eye, the wisdom he thought didn’t belong to him but came to his aid in his greatest time of need.
More than anything, he hoped Yaga hadn’t done anything to harm Cochava or Surid. Although he had questions surrounding Yaga’s involvement with the king, he still couldn’t get past the feeling that part of their current predicament was made worse by himself. He wasn’t supposed to be here, and he knew that, but he also knew now why he was here.
He still debated the idea of the necessity of the king’s death. His obsession with riches might have been a less than desirable trait, as with the rest of the city, but did that mean they deserved to die?
That depended, he supposed. Just because Cochava could harbor the power of the sun, Surid the ability to move mountains, Runavan the power to read minds, and Go’Ranashu, in all of his loyalty and inability to be affected by any power used against him, did that mean they deserved to be trapped down here in these dark and hollow caves?
The Lanniswell Hollow existed simply because the monarchy that had governed Raelevarre built it out of their fear and ignorance. The walls themselves whispered the secrets to Vaeda as he walked through them. Now, the golden light of the walls show the carcasses and skeletons of all the lost who had wandered down here.
When Vaeda came upon the first body, he stopped and stared over it.
“What’s wrong?” asked Runavan as he looked down at the body, too. Everyone could see in the caves now because of Vaeda’s inner light, and Go’Ranashu joined the two of them in looking down at the deceased body.
Vaeda knelt down and put a hand on the forehead of the skull. He inhaled, then exhaled a breath of life in the bone, and the skin started to reform over the body.
“Vaeda…” said Go’Ranashu, and Vaeda stood to look at them.
“I think I’ve figured out what the king was so afraid of,” he said, and more of his memories came back into his mind. He’d chosen to poison the king because he could bring him back if he chose. Him being the prisoner not meant to be down here… Yaga must have seen into his mind when he was off his defenses and warned the king what he was able to do.
“Vaeda,” Runavan whispered, and Vaeda opened his mind even further to allow him in to see all he needed to know. “This is truly incredible…”
The body Vaeda had breathed life into completed its resurgence, and the eyes opened as a sharp breath took in the first dose of life in who knew how long. As the body came back into his full form, Vaeda found it was a woman, brunette with lighter skin than he’d seen on anyone in his life, and sparkling green eyes that almost matched Runavan’s.
“W-where am I?” she asked.
In that moment, Vaeda realized something: Runavan and Go’Ranashu were right. He had been in the Hollow for years. An innumerable amount of them, now that he thought about it. It may have been close to a hundred years since Vaeda whiffed the petals that sent him to this hell, and the king in current power could have turned over more than once for all he knew.
He’d gone around the Hollow doing just this… reviving the people he came across, encouraging them to fight for their freedom, even though the way out always got blocked in some way, shape, or form.
But Vaeda himself had gotten slain at some point… although by who or what, he still did not know. He simply knew that the fact he returned to his awareness proved the worth of what he was meant to do down here.
Everyone sent here died almost immediately, and any that were revived by Vaeda were closely followed by Yaga feeding them the flesh of another soul to keep them from finding the freedom they all knew rested just on the other side of the ground.
“You’ve just returned to your awareness,” say Vaeda as he helped the woman stand. It took her a few moments to readjust to being back to life, and she lost her footing a few times as she stumbled and relearned how to walk.
“Vaeda, how did you do that?” asked Runavan.
Vaeda spoke everything on his mind so Go’Ranashu could hear it, as well. Runavan could have gotten the answer for himself, and they both knew that, but part of the reason he asked was for Go’Ranashu’s sake.
This was Vaeda’s power, this necromancy that continued the lives of the prisoners in the Lanniswell Hollow. None of that had happened before he came down here, and he’d been a target since the start. It had taken years before he was finally caught, because before he died, when his mind was still in tact, when eyes closed, eyes open, and his inner mind were all still aligned, he could outsmart anybody with ease.
The longer he stayed back in this realm of awareness, the more he started to regain that same sense of strength. The clarity after the confusion. Even though Yaga had tried to prevent Vaeda’s mind from learning he could not currently be killed, he knew, with utter certainty now, that wasn’t true.
“I don’t understand,” said the woman who had just returned to life when Vaeda had finished.
“You won’t,” said Vaeda. “Not for a time, anyway. You do, however, have the decision to stay with us or venture on your own. Our path leads us to certain danger. I’d wager the same could be said for you, regardless of the path you chose.
The woman looked to the ground, then nodded. “I will come,” she said. “Who is this Yaga?”
Go’Ranashu and Runavan took turns telling the woman, Sylvend, everything that had happened between their first interaction with Vaeda and now. The general assumption also concluded that Sylvend herself must have some sort of ability the king feared that resulted in her own imprisonment, but that, at this point, she’d hardly remember it.
“There are certain things that seem clear to me as you say them,” Sylvend said. “I feel as though, at some point in my life or perhaps even my death, I’ve interacted with this Yaga.”
“I’m almost certain of it,” said Runavan. “She has ruled the caves for near a millennia now, feeding off of the souls she takes as they come down here to help keep herself young.”
“The only thing I don’t understand,” said Go’Ranashu, “is why she warded off the soldiers who came after Vaeda that one time.”
“Because she wants to kill me herself,” said Vaeda, “but she can’t, and she knows it. I don’t know what she’s up to, now, but something about whatever she’s got planned with Cochava and Surid tells me we’re not going to like it once we find out.”
“You sound very powerful,” said Sylvend.
“He just raised you from the dead,” said Runavan. “I’m not sure what else you’d need as a first clue.”
Now that Vaeda looked around the cave in a proper light, he realized the true enormity and danger of the thing. All of the ravines that led off the cliff edges, stairs and pathways that zigzagged upon the labyrinthine halls. It was no wonder how lost they all got down here, the smallest step in the wrong direction could send someone wandering off for miles in the wrong direction.
Which was exactly what had happened to him, for countless years. He still didn’t know just how long he had wandered around here, saving people, hunting things, trying his best to instill a hope that seemed to be fading with every passing moment.
And yet, this time, he wasn’t as dissuaded as he had been in the past. This time, it almost felt like the Lanniswell Hollow itself wanted Vaeda to succeed. If he didn’t know any better, he’d have thought, if given the choice, the Hollow would have shown them all the way out on its own. It, too, was just as trapped under Yaga’s powers as the rest of them. Try as it might, no matter how it wanted to, it couldn’t help.
But it could encourage, and that’s exactly what Vaeda felt like it was doing as they continued to move through it. The Hollow didn’t want to lead them astray anymore. Not now that they were all connected and united. Yaga may have held half of the group captive, but something inside of Vaeda told him they were still all right, if only just.
That same voice warned him that Yaga did, for whatever reason, intend on sacrificing them for something. Vaeda searched deeper for the meaning, willing it to make itself known to him. As he did so, the answer came across in his mind to issue the knowledge that, should Yaga succeed in her sacrifice, no one would ever get in or out of the Hollow again.
And, at the current moment, even the king himself was on his way down here to see what was happening.
Yaga intended on trapping him with the rest of them, and any of the other soldiers or perhaps even the whole city, if it crumbled into the Hollow as she pictured it would. Vaeda wasn’t all the way sure what connected him into Yaga’s mind like this at this moment, in a way not even Runavan could accomplish with his skills, but Vaeda allowed the connection. For whatever reason, he didn’t think Yaga was aware of it, and that made it easier to look into what she was doing and get to the bottom of her plans without her interference.
“Are you nervous?” asked Sylvend after nearly an hour had passed of silence between them all.
“Nervous?” said Vaeda, then frowned. “I’m not sure, to be honest,” he admitted. “Yaga herself doesn’t scare me. I suppose I fear what she has planned for us, if she succeeds.”
“And what is that?” asked Go’Ranashu.
“To trap us here, of course,” said Vaeda. “And if I’m correct in my suspicions, she’ll succeed in making that a permanent entrapment if she succeeds with whatever she’s trying to do with Cochava and Surid.”
“Do you think she will?” asked Sylvend.
“I suppose that would depend on how long it took us to find her,” said Runavan. “Vaeda, are you sure you know where you’re going?”
As with before, it was almost as if the cave answered for him as Vaeda responded, “Yes. I do. I believe it shouldn’t take us that much longer to find her.”
“And then what?” asked Sylvend.
“I will not waste any time removing Yaga from being a threat any longer,” said Go’Ranashu. “I have encouraged the thought from the start, and I no longer see any reason to keep her alive.”
“As much as I wish I didn’t, I have to agree,” said Vaeda. “The more my memory returns to me, the more I feel she has done more harm here than good. That it will be that way furthermore. We must be careful, though. The king himself is on the way down here, and if he catches us before we get to her, I’m not sure all would be well.”
“Outside of the fact that you, apparently, can’t die,” said Sylvend. “Plus, you seem to have that handy little ability to raise the rest of us back from the dead, too. At least one of us here is grateful for that.”
“I’m sure there are aspects to that power I know nothing about yet,” said Vaeda. “I’d rather not test these theories that claim my invincibility for fear they would not be accurate.”
“Even if they were,” said Go’Ranashu, “you have died and returned to life once before. Who’s to say you cannot do it again?”
“Exactly,” said Vaeda. “Who’s to say? I revert back to my opinion about avoiding the thought rather than —”
He stopped walking, and a moment later, the rest of them joined. They’d stopped at the top of the ravine, and down below, a green and black fire burned in a pit with Cochava and Surid tied just above it, both unconscious. Yaga stood next to them, whispering some sort of incantation as she periodically tossed things down into the fire.
“So that’s her, ae?” whispered Sylvend as the four of them crouched behind a rock to watch Yaga in hopes of not being seen.
“In all her putrid glory,” murmured Runavan.
“What do you supposed we do?”
“I know my plan,” said Go’Ranashu, and as he made a move toward Yaga, Vaeda grabbed his hand.
“No! Not yet. We have to make sure whatever we do doesn’t result in the death of Surid or Cochava.”
“Why?” said Runavan. “It isn’t as though I want anything to happen to them, do not get me wrong, but if it’s them or her, isn’t the final sacrifice… well, worth it?”
Vaeda shook his head. “Not this time. No more death. No more cannibalism. Only the end of Yaga. But if Cochava and Surid die, from whatever situation they’re tied up in right now, we’ll be trapped here forever.”
Runavan closed his eyes, rubbed his temples, and a few moments later opened them back up and said, “You speak true. Yaga’s defenses are down as of now, and I am able to peek into her mind just the slightest to see the intents she has. You are right. She is too deep into her spell as of now to stop. If we kill her, we cannot risk their deaths, too.”
“Maybe I could try and do something,” offered Sylvend. “I don’t think she knows me, unless she’s the reason I died in the first place and she remembers me. Although, with the amount of people it seems she’s killed and consumed, I hardly doubt she wouldn’t think of me twice.”
“It may not be a bad idea,” said Vaeda, “but we’d have to figure out a way for her to believe you were there to help her instead of hurt her.”
“Is there anything she can bring as an offering?” asked Go’Ranashu. “What is the spell Yaga is doing? Are there perhaps some ingredients she may need… I don’t know, more of?”
“I don’t think so,” said Runavan. “And while valiant in the offer and potential in the attempt, something tells me that Yaga won’t be so welcoming to any of us, familiar face or not.”
“And all of that is said as such a bad thing.”
Vaeda jumped, turned around, and gasped when he saw the king, followed by a band of his soldiers. Yaga stopped chanting, and everything froze for a moment.
“Your Grace,” said Vaeda, voice still unwavering as he held the king’s gaze.
“The fallen prisoner,” whispered the king. “Risen again, here to make everything about my position just that much more difficult.” He looked down at Yaga. “And just what do you think you’re doing down there?”
Yaga, determined expression frozen on her face, held out a hand over the fire. “I’m making sure none of us ever leave, ever again.”
She opened her hands and an explosion of green smoke filled the basin of the cavern with a poison designed to trap them for the rest of eternity.